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While the mingling of the art and fashion worlds is not a modern concept, the visibility of fashion and art crossover seems to be at an all high. The spectacle and sensation created by collaboration among creative forces inspires fashion houses to seek out contemporary artists for runway shows, capsule collections, or as commissioned filmmakers. Prada commissioned several murals for its spring 2014 runway show. The Gagosian Gallery represents the fashion photographers Inez & Vinoodh. Viktor & Rolf named its 2015 fall collection "Wearable Art." The argument over whether fashion and art can be interchangeable is almost irrelevant. The key conversation is actually more about what makes the blending of cultures successful. While some collaborations are as disposable as a trending fad, others have the aesthetic power to endure as collectible fashion, art, or both. An enduring example of a long-term collaboration was the Takashi Murakami Louis Vuitton bag of the early 2000s that's going out of production this year.
The artist Richard Phillips has a long history of brand collaborations with MAC, Jimmy Choo, Mont Blanc, and Cartier. "I made a concerted effort to expand the awareness of art — and my art in particular — beyond the art world," Phillips says. "When I had a giant painting of mine appear on a billboard outside the flagship of Cartier, it was a way of having my work in Paris that would be unthinkable otherwise, and bags that were in virtually in every Jimmy Choo store, and the commission by Mont Blanc that’s been exhibited multiple times, and the cosmetic line I did for MAC, and the fact that the special line was appeared in stores all over the world. It was a way to have art integrated with the fashion experience, which is something I always thought was important. Not everyone agrees with that position, but I certainly do."
Phillips is currently finalizing several new collaborations. Over the past decade, he’s seen a shift in the art world’s acceptance of artists working with fashion houses. "There’s a pretty fluid reciprocity there. And the hang-ups that people had in the past are not relevant right now. When I first started out there wasn’t that many in mainstream culture, but in art culture and underground culture it was hand in hand from the beginning. If you’re really on the edge of it, it’s probably not going to look like art for a while and people will contest it, like my short films. People complained that it wasn’t art but at the end you need to operate on the limits. There’s no way to hedge your way there... There’s safety up to a point and after that, there’s the risk, and that’s when things start to happen. That’s the way my work has functioned for quite awhile now."
While the fashion world is hungry for new campaigns, the art world is gradually growing more accepting of contemporary artists venturing into the larger culture. Cary Leitzes, a New York brand consultant, has organized many high profile art world campaigns. "The rules are changing and the acceptance of artist participation is changing too, particularly among a set that’s under a certain age, understandably," Leitzes says. "One thing is that it does is that it gives everybody the opportunity to participate."
Among her recent projects, Leitzes had a hand in orchestrating Marc Jacobs’s Fall 2015 limited-edition collection, which features the work of the artist duo Assume Vivid Astro Focus. The collection includes parkas, bomber jackets, ball caps and socks cast in psychedelic abstract shapes, inspired by the artists’ 2011 drawing series "The Cyclops Trannies." She is also working as the intermediary between Karl Lagerfeld and CD Capitol Developments, the company that commissioned residential lobbies in Toronto. When the company approached her about working with an artist, Leitzes realized that Lagerfeld’s aesthetic was the ideal fit. "Whatever type of creative it is, it’s about respecting the creative process," Leitzes says. "So many brands look to work with artists because it’s something they can talk about in the press or it ticks the marketing box initiative, but it’s just not enough."
Leitzes has also worked on several memorable campaigns with the artist Rob Pruitt — including a spray-painted denim collection with J Brand sold exclusively at Barneys, and a collaboration with Jimmy Choo for a capsule collection that debuted in London during the 2012 Frieze Art Fair. The collection included panda clutches adorned with 11,000 Swarovski crystals, zebra-print heels, and patent-leather leopard wallets.
"[Pruitt] has this fascination with fashion. He could tell you what the hemlines are and he has a great sense of what’s happening in the trends of fashion," Leitzes explains. "So here was already an affinity for him to work in that space."
Pruitt embraces the nature of the working relationship. "I consider myself a workaholic, so working with a fashion house or brand is a nice way to take a vacation from the studio work and stay busy at the same time," he says. "When I worked with Jimmy Choo it was great to sit around a table with these amazing shoe designers — people that were really at the top of their field — and learn from them and participate in something that I would never have imagined myself doing. I really see it as a creative opportunity, and I'm honestly not as interested in occupying a space in the market as I am in the behind-the-scenes aspect of the collaboration. However, it is a thrill to see something that you've designed walking down the street or standing in the security line ahead of you at the airport."
But fulfillment for the artist and innovation for the label aren't the only positive outcomes; the intimate nature of collaboration between an artist and a brand with consumer outreach is a natural fit for philanthropic initiatives. MZ Wallace, co-founded by Lucy Wallace Eustice and Monica Zwirner, has had a long history of artist collaborations on handbags and jewelry that benefit cultural institutions. The art world connection is organic for their company because Zwirner is also married to the gallerist David Zwirner. "We are uniquely suited in part because of my close connection to artists. But we are also in a great position because we own our company 100%, which means that we can make decisions based on our interests without having to answer to a board or quarterly earnings reports," says Zwirner. "We see collaborating with artists as a great privilege; it's something we hope to continue to do when the right projects come along."
MZ Wallace first partnered with Marcel Dzama a decade ago on a line of gold charms. Its most recent collaboration is with Glenn Ligon on a monochromatic bag, the sale of which benefits the Studio the Museum. "Working with Glenn Ligon was a great experience, as he was involved in all aspects of the process and as pleased as we were with the results. Our Summer Shop accessories were inspired in part by Duro Olowu’s work — mainly his Instagram, which I am a huge fan of," says Wallace Eustice.
"Collaborating with artists shows our customers, in a more intimate way, what we respond to aesthetically and emotionally. As designers it is really interesting to see how an artist approaches a project and that is something we can always learn from," Zwirner says.
When collaborations endure and impact, they eventually, like classic works of art, make their way into our cultural institutions. Several museums are attracting record audiences with fashion-minded exhibitions such the famed, record-breaking Alexander McQueen exhibition "Savage Beauty" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2011, or the museum's current exhibit, "China: Through the Looking Glass" — the most-visited show in the institution's history.
When the exhibition "Killer Heels" travels to the Palm Springs Museum in September, Christian Louboutin's breathtaking summer 2013 Printz collection will be among the contemporary shoes on display. The show first opened at the Brooklyn Museum last fall. Lisa Small is the curator of exhibitions at the Brooklyn Museum. She sees clothing as a relatable object to the general public. Simply put, everyone wears clothes.
"Art and fashion are increasingly intertwined, whether it is with artists working with designers on collections, or artists making fashion films for designers," Small says. "I think it is emblematic of a great convergence and in some ways leveling of popular visual culture. Certain contemporary artists and certain contemporary fashion designers have found resonance with each other, and the glamorati in the worlds of film, art, and fashion all feed off of one another and share the same spotlight. Schiaparelli's collaborations with Dali are classics now, so I'm sure at least a few of the art and fashion collaborations we're seeing today will still be interesting fifty years from now."